More on the Pension Problem
Here is a follow-up to my entry a few days ago, "ANOTHER Corporate Accounting Problem?". "Shortfalls in private companies' pension plans soared to $111 billion last year, the highest level ever reported by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp."

""The implications of such massive shortfalls in pension funds are staggering," said Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee. Miller urged the Bush administration to investigate and ensure that workers' retirement savings are not in danger."
Found Another Report
I found a longer more detailed report in the Palm Beach Post. "It includes Al-Qaeda members who are now in custody at Guantanamo Bay."
WTF is going on here? Today's San Jose Mercury News has a very small report on page 8. I'll look for the wire service it came from, and see if I can find confirmation online.

This is the entire article:
"Fewer Al-Qaida members than reported, FBI says
Senior FBI officials believe there are now no more than 200 hard-core Al-Qaida members throughout the world.
``Al-Qaida itself, we know, is less than 200,'' said an FBI official, referring to those who have sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
That figure, far less than recent media reports suggested were in the United States alone, is based on FBI and CIA reports."

If this is an accurate report, I have to ask, WHAT THE F$$$ IS GOING ON HERE?



""Also, it doesn't count if a person's last name begins with the letter 'B,'" he added."
From the Right - The Forest
This piece says a lot about why the left needs organizations like The Commonweal Institute to counteract the web or right-wing organizations. The article is about the far-right National Journalism Center, training lots of busy-bee right-wing so-called journalists. It's remarkable how far to the right the prespective of the piece's auther is, even though it's in the supposedly respected The Christian Science Monitor.

As I wrote in Seeing the Forest II, "It's a new era. The information business isn't about journalism anymore and you'll be frustrated and disappointed as long as you hold the old-fashioned notions that it is "supposed to" be. That's all gone. Now it's different and the public is only getting one side of the story. The public is getting its information from the likes of Rush Limbaugh. As old and worn-out as this sounds, a few large corporations now own almost all of the sources of information and they are using that power to benefit themselves, not the public. This is the forest."
Moon Bush
People are finally looking into Bush's business relationships and turning up all sorts of stuff, from cronyism (Krugman, today's NY Times) and S&L crisis involvement to the notorious bailouts and buyouts of Bush Junior's businesses by Middle East connections involving BCCI (here and here).

If this keeps up, maybe people will start looking into the weird connections between the Unification Church - also known as the Moonies - and the Bushes. At first it sounds pretty weird, but if you know about the influence on the "Conservative Movement" of The Washington Times - owned by the Moonies - then you know that the Moonies are a big part of what is going on with the current crop of right-wing Republicans. Somehow the Moonies have TONS of money and they spread it around.

Here are some links:
Moon background - Detailed background of Moon's organization and an extensive collection of links to other sources.
Consortium News with 15 different articles
Two Online Journal pieces (One, Two)
An ex-Moonie site with lots of info including Moon links to "conservatives".
ABC Australia piece, about Moon in Brazil
Assorted pieces here, here, here and here.


The Commonweal Institute
There's a new think tank starting up, intending to bring a progressive voice to the general public. It's called The Commonweal Institute. "Commonweal" means the public good. Think of them as a Heritage Foundation for the left. They are starting to raise funds now, and from what I have heard and seen they're going to be a force for progressive ideals. Wish them luck. Help them out.
Yesterday's arrests of the Adelphia executives made me think of Jay Leno's comment during the 1996 election, after Bob Dole said that drinking too much milk is just as dangerous as smoking, "Sounds like the milk people forgot to mail their check. Maybe these guys forgot to pay their Club dues.
More Breadth
Bob Herbert's column in today's NY Times talks about what I wrote about a couple days back. "What we have here is a massive breakdown of the internal controls that are supposed to protect customers and promote confidence in the industry."


The Other Kind of Corporate Irresponsibility
Arianna writes, "We are up in arms -- and rightly so -- about corporate greed that leads to massive shareholder rip-offs, but shouldn't we be even more irate about corporate greed that leads to loss of life? "
The Breadth of It
I'm amazed by the breadth of the failures of the institutions involved in the stock failures. Corporate executives were supposed to watch the interests of their shareholders. Accountants - well, we all know what they did. The SEC was supposed to be monitoring these companies. Analysts were supposed to be taking a close and careful look at the companies they analyze - not just accept the word of the company but actually look in warehouses to see if the goods are there. Mutual Funds were supposed to manage their holdings and their real value was supposedly in a bear market carefully screening out companies that wouldn't hold their value. Brokers were supposed to watch out for the interests of their clients instead of putting the assets of retired people into tech stocks with PE ratios of 100 in an obviously overvalued market. The Media was supposed to be keeping an adversarial eye on all of these, informing and warning the public..

And The Democratic Party was supposed to be the protector of working families, opposing the moneyed interests.

As I look at it I can't think of a single institution that did its job.
Irrational Exuberance
Paul Krugman points out that the stock market has now fallen below the level it was at when Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan felt it necessary to warn that it was too high, with his "irrational exuberance" remark. Krugman writes, "Our economic problems are real, but by no means catastrophic. What scares me is the utter inflexibility of the people who should be solving those problems." What would Cinton do?

The current PE ratio of the S&P 500 is 22.1. Still high, and the E (earnings) is based on accounting that is not necessarily credible.
They're Still At It
Read this editorial to remind yourself what Republicans are really like. This is from Richard Mellon Scaife's newspaper, just last week. Scaife is the guy who funds many of the Republican "think tanks" and "policy committees" and various activities of the Republicans - particularly the Federalist Society where so many Bush Administration figures and judicial appointments came from. Scaife funded much of the anti-Clinton investigations as well as those nasty magazines that were full of smears (read the editorial and remember). Ted Olson, now Solicitor General, helped run the anti-Clinton activities for Scaife. Ken Starr was associated with several Scaife organizations, and after the impeachment even tried to leave his position as Special Prosecutor to take a Scaife-funded professorship. Read this editorial and ponder that THIS is the crowd that is now running the country.


ANOTHER Corporate Accounting Problem?
Because of the stock market drop many corporations are going to have to ante up a bunch of cash into their pension funds to cover stock losses, which is likely to affect their own stock price. Which will, of course, affect any pension funds that are invested in those companies, which could mean ... Get it? ANOTHER accounting problem that might be big news in a few days.

Read about it here. "Topping off an underfunded pension plan hurts company profits because it soaks up cash flow that could otherwise be used to pay debt or buy new equipment. But some companies got even more mileage out of their plans' investing success: In the late 1990s, pension-fund holdings grew so lush that companies could properly account for excess fund profits as part of their earnings.
Found a really funny website - Dubya's World - pictures of Bush with funny captions.
Clinton Did It?
In the last few days I've heard Limbaugh, and Hannity, Fox News, the Republican on Crossfire and a few other right-wingers all repeating pretty much the same line, some variation of, "All these corporate crimes we're hearing about happened when Clinton was President. Bush came in and uncovered them"

See the forest. It's a safe bet that this has been focus-group and poll tested so it could well work. I wrote about this sort of thing the other day. The Republicans are well able to drown out anything that the other side can put forward. It's time for the Democrats to speak up. Don't let them get away with this one, like they did with the Savings and Loan crisis.
The Republican Crony Club
I've wondered what is in it for the big-money Bush supporters. I mean, sure, they get special favors from the government, tax breaks, etc. But when, for example, the government gives Microsoft a pass for their monopolistic activities it increases costs FOR OTHER BUSINESSES! Even the Bush-Backing businesses have to spend almost twice as much for computers and an enormous amount for software like MS Office.

It isn't about just being pro-business because Bushism helps some businesses while it hurts others. Bushism helps oil companies but hurts fuel cell, solar and wind-power companies. Those are businesses, too! ALL businesses in California paid a lot more for electricity back when Bush was letting Enron rob the state through price manipulations. Bush supporters had to pay 3 times as much to heat or cool their homes, just like Democrats did. And all of us will suffer from global warming.

So I wondered, what real good do they think they are doing for themselves by supporting these corporate Republicans?

Now I'm thinking that the attraction is like being in a special club. Cronyism describes the Bush thing so well. If you're in the Republican Crony Club you get bailed out when you need it. You get special tax breaks - like a free pass to move your company to Bermuda to avoid paying American taxes. You get first crack at public resources. You get a pass on being investigated for violating laws - you even get to continue doing business with the government after you've been convicted of stealing from the government!

Being in the Republican Crony Club is about what you can buy today with your campaign cash. Never mind that it means the economy is destroyed by it - you can fly away somewhere in your private jet, with your money safely in the Cayman Islands. Whoosh, bye-bye!

It's not like you're going to be prosecuted for anything or ever have to give any of the money back.


I have observed in business circles that two decades of conservative rhetoric delegitimizing the concept of government has created a "scofflaw" atmosphere among executives. Like drivers ignoring speed limits, most executives I encounter see government regulations (and government itself) as an annoyance, an anachronism, a relic of old-fashioned do-gooder days when dinosaur socialist liberals created barriers to efficient business.

Republicans delegitimized government, and act surprised when corporate executives act as if government were not legitimate.
What Would Clinton Do?
Consumers and corporations are carrying a high debt load, and the stock market is still sitting at an historically high P/E ratio. I fear that things could take a bad turn when people realize that Bush isn't DOING anything about this economic situation!

What would Clinton do? (Jeeze, this is from a YEAR ago!)
Investor Confidence Ebbs as Market Keeps Dropping (New York Times)
"The really big risk is that consumers will reawaken to the timeless truth that the best way to save money is to stop spending," said Richard Hastings, chief economist at Cyber Business Credit, a retail advisory firm in New York. "And I think that will impact aggregate demand in a way that has not been seen since the 1930's."

Regular people lost their jobs, took pay cuts or had to work extra hours so the execs can get huge paychecks, free loans and stock options. Regular people lost government services to pay for tax cuts for the rich, and will have to pay off the deficits resulting from tax cuts. (In Wealth and Democracy, Kevin Phillips shows how regular people's tax burden greatly increased while the rich and corporations pay less and less.) Recently regular people have seen their retirement savings collapse at the same time as Bush wiped out the Social Security surplus.

But they had better go further into debt living way past their means, or the whole economy is going down. It's all their fault!

What about raising taxes on the rich or corporations, and maybe getting some of the money BACK from them! Remember what happened to the economy after Clinton RAISED taxes on the rich in 1993?